Mulch is added to landscapes for many different reasons. Mulch can cover bald spots where grass will not grow, or it can be added to protect plants and tree roots, prevent soil erosion, help the ground retain moisture, discourage weed growth, or just for enhancing the look of your landscape.
Before applying mulch, you should have in mind the purpose you want the mulch to serve. Do you want your mulch to work for you by feeding nutrients to plants and soil? Or is your main goal appearance? Mulch comes in many forms and made from many different materials. All of which are still classified as mulch or mulching materials. Each type will have its good and bad points, so you must choose which type will work better for your planting purposes.
Synthetic mulches and stones are long-lasting and even colorful, if color is what you need. Synthetic mulch is a great choice for mulch. You’ll gain the moisture protection, erosion prevention, and weed control benefits from synthetic mulches and they will never break down.
Decomposition is a plus for organic mulches, which range from compost to wood chips. They enrich the soil and serve as hearty amendments, boosting soil with missing nutrients such as nitrogen. The downside to some organics is appearance. Natural mulch materials like lawn clippings and leaves get matted down when spread too thickly and exposed to too much moisture. In this instance, mulch will actually choke out air and moisture from soil, therefore sabotaging your good intentions.
The bottom line is that the application technique is critical for organic, synthetic, or stone mulches. The most common mulch material is wood bark. Other options are as follows:
- Lawn clippings
- Wood chips or shavings
Synthetic and Stone Mulch
- Recycled rubber
- Stone or brick
- Landscape fabric
Preliminary steps before applying mulch
*Tip- Before applying your mulch, remove weeds from the area and water all plants. You want a clean area on which to spread new materials.
Timing: You should spread mulch in mid-to late spring, after the ground warms up. If you apply mulch too soon, the ground will take longer to warm up and your plants will suffer for it. Depending on the time of the year, you may need to lay down additional mulch to maintain soil health. Apply an extra layer of mulch in the summer to retain water, and in the winter to insulate soil. As temperatures warm in the spring, gradually lift away mulch to allow new growth to sprout.
Density: Mulch that is too deep will prevent seedlings from sprouting and, and in mature plants, promote growth in the mulch layer. This is not what you want. This will result in a small root zone, that can be detrimental under a thick layer of mulch as this will block water. Apply lightly as you can always add more if needed.
Tricky Spots:Gravity, water, and wind can interfere with mulch performance. Consider heavier materials if you have slopes or areas exposed to high winds or flooding. Choose, instead, for these areas recycled rubber products that resemble traditional wood bark. These synthetic mulches will not break down with moisture, and they are less likely to blow around with wind or wash away with heavy rains. More info can be found on mulching shrubs such as, cotoneasters, barberry shrubs or your espalier fruit trees.